Column: Initiatives have more children ready to learnLaunched in 2003, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation's Early Childhood Initiative has brought countless citizens together to build systems that support early childhood development.
By: Tim Penny, The Republican Eagle
Launched in 2003, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation's Early Childhood Initiative has brought countless citizens together to build systems that support early childhood development. The early childhood concern that ignited this movement was this: over 50 percent of Minnesota children are simply unprepared to learn when they start kindergarten.
Today, together with SMIF's statewide partners, the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative boasts 90 coalitions based in more than 300 sites who are building local systems to support young children so they are ready to learn when they enter school.
Here in our region, SMIF has helped establish and grow 21 Early Childhood Initiative coalitions or ECIs who are part of this statewide movement. Each coalition — made up of multiple communities, a whole county, or just a single community — commits to three stages of involvement: community visioning, project implementation, and sustainable operation.
Although there are still too many children who are unprepared when they start school, we know our ECIs are having an impact within their communities. Many of our ECIs have mounted local education campaigns to increase the understanding about how young children learn. They've also better identified their local early childhood education resources and, in doing so, have been able to coordinate resources and address the gaps.
For example, in Watonwan County, the local ECI worked hand-in-hand with their family child care providers and encouraged them to undergo further training in child development. Their efforts are paying off with young children scoring higher than average on their kindergarten readiness test.
In Faribault, a successful kindergarten camp was launched for children who hadn't attended pre-school. Kindergarten teachers were amazed at how the children who attended the camp were ready to learn on their first day of school.
And in Fairmont, the ECI has worked to engage the business community through its Partners Encouraging Children's Early Success. The partnership provides support to employers and employees at the worksite by providing parent information fairs, books, and other resources about child development.
So why are ECIs working?
First, they use the tried-and-true method of grassroots organizing. As a former politician, I know the best way to advance a cause is to get a wide cross-section of citizens involved. To keep these ECIs running, each community has agreed that this work is important enough to pay a local coordinator to keep the action moving forward. This leads to selecting small, short-term projects to jump start their coalitions and continue to improve early childhood development within the community.
In addition, each ECI coalition participates in regional and statewide networks to share information and engage in public policy strategies. These networks are an added resource alongside the continued partnership with SMIF for technical assistance, training opportunities, and financial support.
Here at SMIF, we continue to believe investing in children is a long-term bet on a quality workforce. Our work in the early childhood area ties directly to our other work in economic development and community vitality. We know we are growing the workers, leaders, and entrepreneurs of tomorrow when we invest in early childhood education and development today.
For more information about our ECIs, contact Teri Steckelberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, I welcome your comments and questions. You can reach me at email@example.com or507-455-3215.